By: Cole Henry
2016 was a fantastic year for film making as a whole, and both indie and blockbuster films flourished this year. It was hard to get a list of my favorite movies of the year just down to 10 movies but that is exactly what I have done. Read, enjoy, and seek out any movies on this list that you may have not seen yet.
10. The Jungle Book by Jon Favreau
The Jungle Book is one of Rudyard Kipling’s finest works, and in my opinion this film adaptation respects and does Kipling’s work immense justice. All of the performances, both human and motion capture, feel so natural and emotionally charged. The CGI work on display is breathtaking in its realism, and Favreau’s direction blends real sets and CGI masterfully. It is so much more than a mere children’s film.
9. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story by Gareth Edwards
Rogue One is now my favorite Star Wars movie. It explores emotions and themes that have yet to be explored in that galaxy far, far away, and it genuinely feels like a war movie. The film exists in a morally gray territory where viewers see that even good people must do bad things in order to stop a greater evil. Gareth Edwards’ directing captures scale, both large and small, so well. Disney’s allocation of Star Wars had me nervous but The Force Awakens and Rogue One proves that, for now, I have nothing to worry about.
8. The Witch by Robert Eggers
Robert Eggers’ feature length debut is horror film-making perfected and honed to unsettling perfection. It is a story of religious paranoia in New England circa the 1630’s. All of the performances are perfectly creepy, and the delivery of the mid-English dialogue is done quite naturally. The final act of the film features some of the most haunting imagery I have ever seen on the big screen, and viewers are treated to the scariest goat ever to be featured in a film. This movie was made to be viewed on a dark stormy night with all of the lights off. It begs you to live deliciously.
7. Swiss Army Man by The Daniels’
Swiss Army Man is one of the weirdest movies I have ever seen, and I have seen some weird movies. Yet, it has such a big heart and it just invites the viewer along on the absurd fart-fueled journey that the Daniels’ have masterfully created. Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe play off of the absurdity so well thus the comedy is so effective, and the scenes of rich emotion feel very, very real. Under all of the absurdity and physical comedy is a rich emotional narrative about the isolation one feels with low self esteem, the comedic nature of male bonding, and more. The soundtrack fits the movie perfectly in that it is absurd but if you listen closely it is full of emotion. I loved every second of it.
6. The Handmaiden by by Park Chan-Wook
The Handmaiden is a modern Korean masterpiece. Park Chan-Wook’s direction is elegant and flowing in that the movie is full of wide shots and long takes that allow the viewer to soak in all of the mise-en-scene, and to be in awe at the brilliant acting that this film offers. This film is definitely not for everyone in that it is highly sexually charged and features some unsettling and deprave visuals. Yet, if a bombastic lesbian revenge story sounds like something you would enjoy then it is essential viewing. Awards season will treat this film kindly.
5. The Neon Demon by Nicolas Winding Refn
The Neon Demon is a surreal horror film about the fashion industry and how it consumes and depraves one of their youth and vitality. It is one of the most beautifully directed films of the year thanks to Refn’s eye for direction. No one captures neon lit darkness as well as he does, and no one puts as violent or as weird imagery on screen as he does. While this film is high up on my list I honestly cannot recommend it to everyone. It is dark, sadistic even, full of weird sexual imagery, but somehow Refn finds the beauty in all of this. If you can stomach a scene of necrophilia or if you enjoyed Drive and Only God Forgives then definitely check this one out.
4. Hell or High Water by David Mackenzie
Hell or High Water is a neo-masculine crime drama for the ages. It is one of the highest grossing indie films of 2016 for a reason; it is fantastic! David Mackenzie’s direction captures the desolate expanses of Texas so well, and the few scenes of violence are abrupt, disgusting, and necessary. All of the performances are award worthy and the characters are written so well so that the viewer cares about them in such an intimate way. The themes that this movie deals with from the wage gap to the inherent flaws in modern banking are handled maturely and intellectually. It is an unconventional heist film that anyone can find enjoyment in.
3. Arrival by Denis Villenueve
2016 was a year full of loss, bigotry, and hatred. Arrival was a breath of fresh air because it is a film about accepting others, accepting yourself, and accepting your future for the sake of other peoples’ happiness. It is a brilliant, important, and relevant piece of modern science fiction. Villenueve’s direction is breathtaking as always, and the long take in which the alien ship is first shown is utterly breathtaking. The special effects are award worthy and Amy Adams gives one of, if not her best, performance. If you choose to watch any movie on this list I would recommend this one just because it is so, so important.
2. Green Room by Jeremy Saulnier
Punks versus Neo-Nazis. What more could you want in a film? In all seriousness, Green Room is a perfect piece of tension filled guttural action thriller film making. Jeremy Saulnier has proven himself as one of the best genre filmmakers working today, and he directs this movie with such confidence. The use of one location makes the film so tense in an almost Hitchcockian way. Yet, unlike Hitchcock, Saulnier’s film is mean and ugly in its use of violence, but it feels necessary for the narrative and world that the film is building. The performances are great across the board but Anton Yelchin, as a young punk rocker, and Patrick Stewart, as the Neo-Nazi leader, are the performances that really standout. Green Room is an important piece of modern American genre film-making, and rest in peace Anton Yelchin. You were brilliant young actor who left this world far too soon.
1. La La Land by Damien Chazelle
Damien Chazelle has just solidified himself as one of, if not, best directors working in the world today. His direction is elegant, beautiful, and his use of color and brilliant mise en scene is capture in the frame so well. He is a brave director and his affinity for jazz is shown through his direction. Jazz is about spontaneity and improvisation in the heat of the moment, and his directorial style truly feels that way. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are great as he two main leads whom we follow along a filmic journey of love, passion, and accepting one’s reality. The narrative on display is full of vibrant emotions punctuated by awe inspiring song and dance numbers. It is a love letter to old school Hollywood and it will make anyone feel nostalgic for a time and place that they never even lived in. La La Land is, in my opinion, the best film of 2016. I could go on and on about it but for the sake of brevity I will cut myself off here. Thank you for reading!